This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Oct. 26, 2006

At the Top

To say that Army is off to a good start would be an understatement. The Black Knights are 3-0-1, their best opening in 30 years. Army’s sweep at Connecticut was its first road sweep against a conference opponent since 1988, when the Black Knights were still in the ECAC.

“It feels good, but there’s a long way to go,” said coach Brian Riley. “Last year we got off to a slow start but had a strong finish, and this year we’re off to a good start but it’s ultimately about where you finish. But every game is important, so we’re happy about getting these points now. At the end of the season, teams above you and teams below you will be separated by one or two points. That’s the way it is in this league.”

Sophomore goaltender Josh Kassel backstopped Army to 5-4 and 7-3 wins over UConn, making a total of 61 saves. Rob Ross led the way with three goals and an assist, with all three tallies coming in the third period, one on Friday and two on Saturday. Defenseman Tim Manthey had seven points on the weekend, with a goal and six assists.

“Right now, pucks are going in the net for us,” said Riley. His team’s 16 goals in four games equals its output through 10 contests last season.

“It’s an area where we’ve struggled. But we’ve got guys that are used to playing with each other, and the power play has certainly helped. Power play (effectiveness) comes and goes. Right now, we’re just hoping to make the most of it. Scoring goals is a hard thing in this league with so many good goaltenders.”

Next up for Army is a trip to Tampa for the Lightning College Hockey Classic with Notre Dame, Alabama-Huntsville and Air Force. The Black Knights take on the Fighting Irish on Friday.

“They’re a great team,” said Riley. “They’re the hottest team in college hockey right now. After our game on Friday, my brother called to tell me (about Notre Dame’s 7-1 win at Boston College) and I almost fell out of the bus. They’re a really good team, and well-coached.

“We’re looking forward to playing in an NHL facility, and there’s a lot of military folks down there, so it will be a great experience. It will be great to see the guys from Air Force. We’re both looking to represent our league well.”

Then it’s back to conference play the next weekend against AIC.

“We’re taking one week at a time,” said Riley. “You don’t look back and don’t look too far ahead.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week
Mike Phillipich, Air Force
: The sophomore had two goals and two assists in a 5-1 win over Bentley, and added two more helpers in a 6-5 loss the next night. Phillipich already has eight points this season; he had 15 all last year.

Goaltender of the Week
Louis Menard, RIT
: Menard got his first win of the season with an 8-0 win over AIC. Shots on goal were 31-31 in the contest, but Menard stopped them all, including a penalty shot, for the shutout.

Rookie of the Week
Josh Heidinger, Canisius
: Heidinger tallied four assists on the weekend, including three in a 5-2 win over Sacred Heart. He leads the Griffs in scoring, averaging a point a game.

Highs and Lows

Canisius had quite a three-day stretch. After defeating Sacred Heart 5-2 on Saturday to earn a weekend split with the favored Pioneers, the Golden Griffins were smoked at Colgate 9-0 on Tuesday.

First, the positives.

“We really played well on Saturday,” said coach Dave Smith. “We played our system. The game was in question midway through the second period, and then we got a big goal that got us on our way. We played with confidence. It was one of our top five or six games in the past two years.”

Freshman Andrew Loewen made 33 saves for his first win. The five goals by Canisius matched its total from its first four games of the season.

“Sacred Heart is a very good team,” said Smith. “They capitalize. But we got better each period on Saturday.”

Canisius’ top four scorers are freshmen, led by defenseman Carl Hudson’s three goals, all on the power play.

“He’s got a rocket for a shot,” said Smith. “And Chris Forsman is right behind. He’s playing a lot of minutes for us. We’ve put freshmen in key positions and they’ve performed very well. Loewen made all the saves he should. They got one on the power play and one at the buzzer. He was outstanding.”

But it was a different story on Tuesday, when Canisius was dominated by Colgate, 9-0. Each team had 16 power plays in the game, but the Griffs were stymied while the Red Raiders scored six times with the man advantage and twice while shorthanded.

“It was frustrating because we had gotten better for 12 consecutive periods and we took a step back,” Smith said. “But we play nonconference games to get ready for our Atlantic Hockey schedule, so we’ll try to take what we can away from this.”

The Golden Griffins get back into league play on Friday, hosting RIT at the Pepsi Center in Amherst, N.Y.

“If we play like we did against Sacred Heart, we’ll do O.K.,” said Smith. “If we play like we did against Colgate, we’re in for a long night.”

The Tigers are coming off an 8-3, 8-0 sweep of AIC. “We have a lot of respect for RIT,” said Smith. “They’re playing with confidence. If they can get eight on us, they will. We have to get back to doing the things that we were doing well.”

Around the League

• This is Air Force’s second trip to Florida, but you have to go back quite a ways to find the first. The Falcons played Army there back in 1968, their first season of varsity hockey. They could meet again based on how the first round games of the Lightning College Hockey Classic turn out. Air Force plays Alabama-Huntsville in the first round, while Army takes on Notre Dame.

• In the “If at first you don’t succeed” department, Mercyhurst’s Ben Cottreau took a game-high eight shots on Friday, but was blanked as the Lakers lost to Holy Cross 4-1. He took 11 shots on Saturday, and scored three times in a 7-5 win.

• Bentley travels to Princeton for a pair this weekend. Friday’s game will be a charity game played at the Codey Arena in West Orange, N.J. The first annual “Hockey for Hope” game will benefit the Cheer Me Up Foundation, a non-profit organization that aids sick and underprivileged children.

• Connecticut’s 0-4 start is its worst in 35 years. Things don’t get easier as the Huskies travel to Mercyhurst for a pair of games this weekend. Mercyhurst leads the all-time series 20-5-1 and won all four games between the teams last season.

• RIT ambushed AIC last weekend 8-3 and 8-0 for its first Division I wins since November 26, 2005. The opponent in that game? AIC.

• Holy Cross’ 2-1 win at Merrimack on Tuesday was the league’s first win of the season against a “Big Four” school.